". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Why D.C. Needs a Street Called ‘Jimmy Lai Way’

Seventy-six-year-old Jimmy Lai, a media tycoon known for his role as a leader in pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, faces three charges of sedition and collusion in a pivotal national security trial in Hong Kong. The prominent Catholic activist and self-made billionaire has sacrificed a great deal of his effort to preserve and strengthen Hong Kong’s democratic spirit in its face off with China’s Communist Party leaders. Now, a bill has been introduced in the U.S. House to rename a Washington, D.C. street adjacent to a Chinese government building as “Jimmy Lai Way” in his honor.

Lai founded the newspaper Apple Daily in 1995, which was a consistent platform for democratic ideals and against the Chinese government’s attempts to encroach on the freedoms in Hong Kong. In the paper’s first publication, the editors wrote, “Hongkongers who are accustomed to freedom will not stay silent in the face of unreasonable restrictions and unfair treatments, for Hongkongers are born with a passion for freedom.” In 2021, the Chinese government froze Apple Daily’s assets, forcing the paper to shut down. Lai also took a prominent role in the 2019–2020 Hong Kong protests against an extradition bill that gave the Chinese government more power over Hongkongers.

Lai was a high-profile target for the Chinese government when they effectively took over the city upon passing the 2020 “national security law.” Though he knew the cost would likely be high, Lai refused to leave his fellow Hongkongers to suffer under China’s thumb alone. When asked why he did not flee to safety, he simply said, “When I take a stand, I stand.” Lai has pled not guilty to the current charges against him, though it is likely he will face a substantial prison sentence.

The Chinese government’s grasp on Hong Kong — which was recently a semi-autonomous city — is quickly, and brutally, tightening. At the end of March, the Chinese government and Hong Kong passed a new law called Article 23. The law broadens the definition of five crimes related to national security: theft of state secrets and espionage, sabotage endangering national security, external interference, insurrection, and treason.

Hudson Institute’s Olivia Enos explains, “Criticism of Hong Kong authorities and Beijing can now constitute sedition, a crime not covered by the 2020 security law, and the maximum penalty for sedition tripled from two years to seven years imprisonment, or 10 years if it involves coordination with ‘external forces.’” The new law represents a near-total collapse of free speech. Some Catholics even fear that it threatens the confidential nature of Confession.

As the Chinese government turns lights out on what was once a vibrant, democratic, thriving semi-autonomous city, representatives Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill that would act as a strong rebuke of the Chinese government and Hong Kong’s rulers' injustice against pro-democracy protestors. H.R. 8125 would rename the road in front of Hong Kong’s de facto embassy “Jimmy Lai Way” in honor of the city’s most well-known dissident. Its address would become “1 Jimmy Lai Way NW.”

There is precedent for using street names to send a message to foreign diplomats. Nina Shea offered some background in The Hill:

“Several foreign embassies in Washington have seen adjacent spaces renamed for their oppressed dissidents. When Congress first acted in 1984 to honor a Soviet dissident by renaming the 16th Street site of the Soviet Embassy, the State Department objected that it could offend the embassy’s dignity under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, and the District Council of Washington said that it could only rename a street to honor a person who had been dead for two years. Congress prevailed and the address became Andrei Sakharov Plaza.”

Chinese culture emphasizes symbolism, and changing the address of a Chinese government building to honor a prominent dissident is a significant act. In response to the bill, an unnamed Hong Kong government spokesperson called on the U.S. government to “stop maliciously interfering” in Hong Kong.

Regarding what this change of address would represent, Rep. Smith said, “For as long as the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office continues to operate in Washington D.C., their new address will symbolize that this champion of freedom stands against their growing authoritarianism and human rights abuses.” The Chinese government deserves a constant reminder that the United States stands with the people of Hong Kong who long for autonomy and democratic government. “Jimmy Lai Way” can be that reminder. Congress should work to pass H.R. 8125 in support of Jimmy Lai and all the Hongkongers who are watching their cherished freedoms suffocated by the Chinese government.

Arielle Del Turco is Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, and co-author of "Heroic Faith: Hope Amid Global Persecution."